Two weeks Training Before Ill-fated Trip

One of the four Fijian Navy officers court martialled over the grounding of the RFNS Kiro in July 14, 2016, says he received only two weeks training prior to being
07 Jul 2018 11:23
Two weeks Training Before  Ill-fated Trip

One of the four Fijian Navy officers court martialled over the grounding of the RFNS Kiro in July 14, 2016, says he received only two weeks training prior to being appointed assistant navigation officer on the ill-fated trip.

Ensign Michael Brown said the trip was his first time to sail and keep watch on RFNS Kiro.

During his mitigation submission after being found guilty on June 28 Ensign Brown said his conscience was clear and that his act of negligence was not intentional.

Ensign Brown, 23, pleaded guilty to a charge of neglecting to perform a duty contrary to Section 29 (a) (b) of the Army Act of 1955.

He is charged alongside Lieutenant Commander Saula Tuilevuka, Lieutenant Samuela Cikaitoga and Lieutenant Ben Salacakau.

During his mitigation submission yesterday in a General Court Martial, Ensign Brown said because of his obedience to orders he never questioned his appointment as Navigation Officer for that journey from RFNS Stanley Brown in Walu Bay to Natovi Jetty.

“Throughout the journey my belief was that all the Global Positioning System (GPS) readings that I extracted and plotted were correct,” he said.

Ensign Brown said the incident was the most dreadful experience he had come across and it would continue to haunt him for as long as he lived.

After the incident, he said, he slowly tried to rearrange his life and turned to religion to help him conquer his lost hope.

Ensign Brown testified that he did not want to change his career and if given the opportunity he vowed to be more vigilant and cautious in his work.

He said he had accepted responsibility for his actions.

While requesting for a non-custodial sentence Ensign Brown said, “Belcher Rock (where the Kiro was grounded) is a mountain I have to climb in order to see and conquer the other mountains ahead.”

He is charged with neglecting to alter the course of the RFNS Kiro to avoid grounding the vessel.

Meanwhile, former Chief of Navy Captain (Navy) John Fox testified as a character witness for Lieutenant Commander Tuilevuka, 40, and stated that they were good colleagues and family friends.

Captain Fox said Lieutenant Commander Tuilevuka, who has 28 years experience in the Navy, was always ready to put his views across and knew when to abide by authority. He is married with five sons and is deeply remorseful for his actions.

Lieutenant Commander Tuilevuka is charged with neglecting to submit a report to the Navy Headquarters on the Operational Sea Check that was conducted on RFNS Kiro while holding the appointment of Maritime Command (MARCOM) prior to being deployed to Black Rock.

Operations Officer Commander Timoci Natuva appeared as character witness for Lieutenant Cikaitoga, 37, who has been in the Navy for the past 16 years.

Commander Natuva said Lieutenant Cikaitoga rose to the role of Commanding Officer at a time when the Navy was going through a difficult period of employing experienced COs.

“Not a day goes by that I do not regret my actions,” Lieutenant Cikaitoga said.

He apologised to the court and sought leniency.

Commanding Officer for the RFNS Kula Lieutenant Commander Isoa Tokalauvere referred to Lieutenant Salacakau as a “jack of all trades”.

He said the Executive Officer never shied away from his responsibilities, never complained and followed orders thoroughly.

Lieutenant Salacakau has been in the Navy for 16 years and said the grounding of RFNS Kiro was an accident which affected him psychologically and emotionally.

He sought the forgiveness of the RFMF and Navy for the incident and asked for a non-custodial sentence.

Proceedings will reconvene on July 10, 2018, before the president of the Court Martial Commander Netani Sukanaivalu, Judge Advocate Lieutenant Colonel Jiten Singh, and panel members Lieutenant Commander Enele Ma’afu, Lieutenant Commander Jeke Vakararawa, Major Valu Raumakita and Lieutenant Colonel Jone Tavainavesi.

Lieutenant Commander Tuilevuka, Lieutenant Salacakau and Ensign Brown are charged with one count each of neglecting to perform a duty while Lieutenant Cikaitoga is charged with three counts.

Prosecution is expected to file and serve sentence submissions next week Tuesday.

Edited by Epineri Vula


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